Buenos Aires Province Security Minister Sergio Berni and at least eight police officers were injured on Monday after they were attacked by an angry group of protesting bus-drivers in La Matanza.
Berni, 61, was attacked when he arrived at a protest by transport workers, who launched a 24-hour wildcat strike against unsafe working conditions. The walkout follows the death of one of their colleagues in a shootout following an attempted robbery.
The minister was left bloodied and beaten by the attack. Footage broadcast live on local television showed him bleeding from the face and staggering to his feet after falling during the assault.
Jorge D'Onofrio, provincial transport minister, was also caught up in the violence. Emergency services said that eight police officers and three bus-drivers were injured in the clashes.
The attack on Berni, who is renowned for his abrasive style and hard-line stance on crime, occurred a short while after the minister’s arrival at the rally near Avenida General Paz. Accompanied by a minimum security detail, the official attempted to speak with demonstrators about the investigation into their colleague's death and persuade them to call off the strike.
Instead, the minister was met with jeers and insults. As tensions increased, a mob converged on the official and team, beating, shoving and kicking them. Police officers intervened to form a protective cordon, but the violence continued, with rocks being thrown in at the official and his team.
With his face bloodied and with just a bicycle helmet for protection, Berni was eventually led away by police, who took him to hospital for treatment.
The protest was sparked by the death of bus-driver Daniel Barrientos, 65, who was shot in the early hours of Monday morning by two assailants who boarded the vehicle he was driving in order to rob passengers.
A police officer was also onboard and a shoot-out ensued, with the assailants escaping with the aid of a third individual who was waiting in a nearby car.
Barrientos, who died at the scene, was just one month away from reaching his retirement.
The strike by the bus-drivers affects all the main bus lines that travel between La Matanza and the capital, with 86 lines participating in total.
Bus drivers downed tools Monday on 86 bus lines covering the western parts of greater Buenos Aires, an area of some 14 million inhabitants.
"We have already arrested the perpetrator," of that crime, Berni told the crowd before he was whisked away, adding that work was being done to guarantee drivers' safety.
Doctors later said that the official had suffered a fractures to his skull and jawbone and damage to his eye socket. In remarks to reporters outside the Churruca Hospital, where he was treated for injuries, Berni said that “the death of a bonaerense [resident of Buenos Aires Province] hurt him more" than anything.
"We are working on it. There are two detainees, they are doing tests," he added, referring to the investigation into Barrientos' death.
Berni played down the violence and pointed the finger at police officers for allegedly having escalated tensions. He said he would not press charges against those who attacked him.
"I asked them not to move forward because things were being resolved and we had the situation under control. We had already agreed on a meeting," he said of the action by the Buenos Aires Province Police Force, who confirmed in a statement that eight officers had also been injured in the violence.
Berni, a former military officer, insisted on Monday that President Alberto Fernández's government should send Border Guards to guarantee security in the province.
"We make an infinite effort with scarce human resources, that's why we desperately ask since 2019 for the presence of the Gendarmerie in the province of Buenos Aires," he declared.
Buenos Aires Province is the nation's most populous region, home to 17.5 million of the country's 45 million inhabitants, according to the latest national census. Around 1.8 million people live in La Matanza.